The Cal Bears are entering a new era in their history, as former Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes takes over for Jeff Tedford. Dykes brings in his uptempo, high scoring offense that was ranked first in scoring in the entire nation last season. It is going to be a polar opposite from Tedford’s plodding, methodical pace that he was known for.
Last season, the Bears’ season was a total disappointment, as the finished 3 – 9 on the season and 2 – 7 in conference play. The Bears’ conference record was the third worst. The offense was anemic as they only averaged 23 points per game, which ranked 93rd out of 124 teams.
Uneven quarterback play was a major reason for their lack of success, as Zach Maynard struggled for the majority of the season. The passing offense averaged 208.3 yards per game through the air and had a one-to-one touchdown to interception ratio with 13 each.
This is the area that Dykes looks to make an immediate improvement upon with his Bear Raid offense. Louisiana Tech ranked third in the nation with an average of 350.8 yards per game and they had 33 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Dykes has a talented core of players to work with. His young quarterbacks have much more potential and arm talent than what Maynard displayed over his last two seasons at Cal. Receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs flashed potential and look like they could blossom in Dykes’s spread attack.
The Bears leaned on their running game last season with nearly 38 carries per game. They averaged 183 yards per game on the ground, which ranked them 42nd in the nation. They were led by seniors C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele, who combined for over 1,500 yards. They also flashed sensational sophomore Brendan Bigelow, who averaged 9.8 yards per carry and 13.1 yards per completion.
Dykes like to utilize his running game in his offense to keep opposing defenses off balance. He prefers a power running game to gash the heart of defenses that are spread out in defenses to defend against the pass. His Bulldogs rushed for 227.2 yards per game, which was good enough for 17th in the nation. Cal’s returning running backs are on the smaller side, but have plenty of speed to burn and could thrive in Dykes’s big play offense.
Dykes looks to make a dramatic impact upon Cal’s offense. The amount of impact is remaining to seen, as the offense is trying to make a transition from a traditional pro-style offense to an uptempo spread attack. The success is going to heavily rely on the play from their young quarterbacks. If one of the talented passers is able to take control of the starting role and has a breakthrough season, Cal has the potential to challenge for a top end bowl game. If the quarterbacks struggle, as young players tend to do, Cal will be facing another tough season and it will be looked at as a rebuilding year.
Another thing that the Bears must contend with is their schedule. The Bears’ schedule is extremely tough, especially with their out-of-conference slate. Last season, Cal’s opponents combined for a record of 93 – 60 and five of the 12 teams finished in the Associated Press’s final top-25 rankings.
Let’s take a look at Cal’s 2013 schedule, as we try to predict how many wins we can expect from the Golden Bears.
1. Northwestern, L:
Northwestern is a lot like the team the Bears opened with last season: Nevada. Northwestern displays a strong spread-option attack that returns eight starters. Their defense is aggressive and forces a fair number of turnovers, which could spell trouble for a young offense in a transition to a new offense. They finished 17th in the AP’s top-25 rankings. The Bears barely drop their season opener.
2. Portland State, W:
The Bears look to bounce back with their glorified scrimmage against an FCS opponent. Portland State finished last season with a 3 – 8 record. The Bears should run away with this early.
3. Ohio State, L:
Last season, the Bears gave Ohio State a scare in Columbus before falling by a late touchdown. Ohio State looks to be even tougher this season with one more year under the tutelage of Urban Meyer. Ohio State is a favorite to run the table and challenge for a national title and they might have too much firepower for the Bears to handle.
4. Oregon, L:
The Bears get their second straight top-5 opponent. This is their first road game of the season and they must travel to the hostile confines of Autzen stadium. The Ducks aggressive attack on offense and defense could trouble the young Bears. Also, how will they handle the crowd noise? The Bears suffer their first losing streak of the season.
5. Washington State, W:
The Bears get a reprieve as they return home against perennial cellar dweller Washington State. This has the makings of a shoot-out, as both teams feature high octane offensive schemes. The Bears should have more talent on both sides of the ball and should take this one in the end.
6. UCLA, L:
Last season, Cal was able to pull off the upset against UCLA. This season looks to be much different due to the growth of Brett Hundley. Hundley was extremely impressive in his first season as the full-time starter and he looks to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country by season’s end. The Buins take this one at home.
7. Oregon State, W:
The Bears are lucky to get this game at home. The home field advantage should give them enough lift over the Beavers. These teams look to be closely matched, but the Bears should be close to clicking as a team and reaching their potential for the season. They edge the Beavers late at home.
8. Washington, L:
This has the potential for a Bears’ win. Both teams are very evenly matched, but the Huskies look to be much improved over last season with Keith Price playing up to his abilities. The Huskies’ improved offense and the game being in Seattle gives Washington the edge in a close one.
9. Arizona, W:
Arizona is breaking out a new quarterback for this season, but they feature the top running back in the conference in Ka’Deem Carey. Cal is in for a tough fight, but the offense might be too much for the Arizona defense. The Bears get the edge due to this game being played in Berkeley.
10. USC, L:
USC is breaking in a new starting quarterback this season, but their late season match-up with Cal hurts the Bears’ chances, as the Trojan offense has time to get its chemistry in order. The Trojan defense should be one of the top units in the conference. Also, they have All-World wide receiver Marquise Lee, who is a play-maker that is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
11. Colorado, W:
The Bears get the bottom of barrel Colorado Buffaloes in their second to last game of the season. They should look to torch the Buffs’ defense, which ranked last in the nation in points against last season. This will be a perfect warm-up game as they prepare for hated rival Stanford next week.
12. Stanford, L:
The 116th Big Game will take place at Stanford Stadium. Stanford is potential Pac-12 champion and national champion contender. This will be a tough test for the young Cal offense, as this will be the toughest defense they face during the season.
The Stanford offense has some questions marks at the wide receiver and running back positions, but they have a talented quarterback in Kevin Hogan, who could be one of the top QBs in the conference. The Bears drop this one, as Stanford is just too talented and experienced.
Final Record: 5 – 7 (4 – 5)
The Bears improve their record from last season, but it is not enough to qualify them for the postseason. They should make major strives as the year moves on, especially on offense, but they are set to really compete in the next two seasons. Bears’ fans need to be patient and look forward to 2014.